Strong third quarter propels Indiana to win against Fairfield in NCAA tournament opener

  • 03/23/2024 7:00 pm in

Adapt, adjust and move on. That’s the NCAA tournament.

In Saturday’s NCAA tournament opener at Assembly Hall, Indiana found itself in potential danger after the first two quarters. The Hoosiers held a four-point lead – 38-34 – against Fairfield after the first 20 minutes.

But the possible scare of a close game late in the game quickly faded away.

The Hoosiers found their footing in the third quarter and cruised to an 89-56 win in front of 12,753 fans.

Indiana discussed the fast-paced nature of Fairfield’s offense heading into this game and the first half proved why it had the Hoosiers’ attention. A big part of the Stags’ early success was Janelle Brown, who started the game with 12 points and was perfect from the field. Fairfield set the game’s tempo but, in a way, it helped Indiana as they got deeper in the game.

“I thought it was good for us,” Teri Moren said postgame. “Sara eluted to it; we haven’t played in two weeks. I didn’t mind the pace. I would have liked to hit a few more shots, but I didn’t mind the pace. What I didn’t like was us not getting back better in transition from time to time, but again, you’re playing in your first game of the NCAA tournament. There’s gonna be some nervousness and great anticipation, but there’s some jitters that I think they have to get out, and I thought that probably helped us just to get those out early.”

The final few minutes of the first half saw Indiana’s defense finally meet the level they are so used to playing. Initially, Fairfield determined the pace, but then the Hoosiers took over.

The Stags scored six consecutive points midway through the second quarter, but that’s when Indiana flipped the switch. The final five minutes of the quarter saw Fairfield make one basket to Indiana’s nine. Fairfield couldn’t get much going as they finished the half, making that lone basket on ten attempts from the field.

In that stretch, three plays prompted the defensive switch. Indiana’s two most prominent leaders, All-American Mackenzie Holmes and senior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, turned up the defensive pressure and changed the game for the Hoosiers.

With 3:41 left in the first half, Brown drove to the basket and was blocked by Holmes. A minute and thirty seconds later, the same thing happened. And for good measure, Moore-McNeil got in on the action. Seven seconds later, she had a block of her own to close out the half.

Indiana made adjustments, knowing that with the pace of Fairfield, their defense had to change.

“The adjustments that we made were that we decided to switch everything from one through five,” Moren said. “We’re not a team that does that; that’s why we are so proud of our guys being able to make those adjustments and having to sit down …That was the biggest adjustment that we made was to try and stay under people but switching.”

Moore-McNeil, Indiana’s most vocal player, knew Indiana was giving Fairfield too much. In that same span of the three blocks by Indiana, Moren called a timeout, and right away, Moore-McNeil voiced that her team wasn’t playing strong defense. They were letting them hang around, and she knew something had to change, so she decided to take action.

This isn’t the only time Moore-McNeil has gotten on her teammates, and it definitely won’t be the last, but that was the push Indiana needed.

As the third quarter began, Indiana created separation for good. A 13-0 run fueled the Hoosiers, who outscored the Stags 26-15 in the third quarter. IU’s switching defense worked and it set the tone for the entire second half.

Once again, Indiana found defensive success in the final 10 minutes. The Hoosiers only allowed seven points in the fourth quarter, easing towards a comfortable victory. The Stags, after shooting 41 percent from the field in the first half, shot 22 percent in the second half.

After not having played for two weeks entering Saturday, Indiana has a win under its belt and will now face No. 5 seed Oklahoma on Monday.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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